Monday, July 23, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #13: Nothing Serious

Who doesn't love the unlimited all you can eat buffet at Ponderosa Steakhouse? Even little bulls enjoy hopping up, peering under the sneeze guard, and shoveling huge heaps of salad, Jell-O, chicken wings, tacos, cottage cheese, pickles, pudding, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, little plastic toy cars...golly, let's go to Ponderosa right now, shall we?


Okay, we're back. And I'm stuffed! So it's an excellent time to lie back on the couch and prop up my copy of P. G. Wodehouse's Nothing Serious (1950) on my overstuffed belly. An odd segue, you say? No! (This is an odd segue.) Nothing Serious is a collection of various short stories featuring different Wodehouse characters—a veritable smorgasbord of fun and fancy by the master of whimsy and other words, an all you can eat variety buffet of fun! And no chicken bones!

There's ten stories in here, mostly reprints from magazines, featuring varying characters, from Bingo Little (Bertie Wooster's chum from the Jeeves stories) and Lord Emsworth (of the Blandings tales), five "Oldest Member" golf stories, a Ukridge story (which reminds me—I've got to do a Ukridge book soon in this Wodehouse project!) and other tales of love, marriage, and even cricket. There's a slight sporting theme running through almost all the stories (only the second defies sports-i-fication), but even this little sports-challenged bull can appreciate 'em. (Although I still don't understand the rules of cricket!)

Short stories are great for the hot long summer days: I highly recommend one of Wodehouse's short story collections for lyin' back in a hammock with a frosty cold Arnold Palmer. They're best read in stretches of one or two at a time rather than a big chunk at once: the finger food of literary entertainment. And really, what's more delightful than the wonderful Wodehouse world in which love is so cheerful and casual:
An idea struck him. He called up Agnes Flack.

'Miss Flack?'


'Sorry to disturb you at this hour, but will you marry me?'

'Certainly. Who is that?'

'Smallwood Bessemer.'

'I didn't get the second name.'

'Bessemer. B. for banana, e for erysipelas—'

'Oh, Bessemer? Yes, delighted. Good night, Mr. Bessemer.'

'Good night, Miss Flack.'
The sentiment must be catching, because Miss Flack isn't the only one to leap into love:
'...She's a modern streamlined Jezebel, dash her insides.'

'Uncle Everhard,' said Corby, 'you are speaking of the woman I love.'

The girl gave a little gasp.

'No, really?" she said.

'Absolutely,' said Corky. 'I had intended to mention it earlier. I don't know your name...'

'Clarissa. Clarissa Binstead.'

'How many s's?'

'Three, if you count the Binstead.'

'Clarissa, I love you. Will you be my wife?'

'Sure,' said the girl. 'I was hoping you'd suggest it.'
Don't you wish all love could be the same? Sigh. Only in Wodehouse. Of course, the advice for the lovelorn you get should p'raps sometimes be taken with a grain, or a shaker, of salt:
'Women.' he said, 'are all alike. They need to be brought to heel. You have to teach them where they get off and show them that they can't go about the place casting away a good man's love as if it were a used tube of toothpaste. Let me give you a bit of advice. Don't sit brooding in bars. Do as I intend to do. Go out and start making vigorous passes at some other girl.'

'To make her jealous?'


'So that she will come legging it back, pleading to be forgiven?'


Sidney brightened.

'That sounds good to me. Because I mean to say there's always the chance that the other girl will let you kiss her, and then you're that much ahead of the game.'

And avoid dictating advice to your fianceé:
'I'd like to give you a bit of advice,' he said. 'What's wrong with your dancing is that you give a sort of jump at the turn, like a trout leaping at a fly. Now, the way to cure this is very simple. Try to imagine that the ceiling is very low and made of very thin glass, and that your head just touches it and you mustn't break it. You've dropped your engagement ring,' he said, as something small and hard struck him on the side of the face.

'No, I haven't,' said Celia. 'I threw it at you.'
My two favorite stories in here are "Bramley is So Bracing" (whose title is a take-off on that famous British railway poster), in which Bingo Little's pal Freddie Widgeon misplaces Bingo's baby son...twice, and what would surely be Stan Lee's favorite P. G. Wodehouse tale, "Excelsior":
'...When I think of what Horace Bewstridge went through the day he battled for the President's Cup, I am reminded of the poem, Excelsior, by the late Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with which you are doubtless familiar.'

'I used to recite it as a child.'

'I am sorry I missed the treat,' said the Oldest Member courteously. 'Then you will recall how its hero, in his struggle to reach the heights, was laid stymie after stymie, and how in order to achieve his aim, he had to give up all idea of resting his head upon the maiden's breasts, though cordially invited to do so. A tear, if you remember, stood in his bright blue eye, but with a brief "Excelsior!" he intimated that no business could result. Virtually the same thing that happened to Horace Brewstridge.'

'You know,' said the young man, 'I've always thought that Excelsior bird a bit of a fathead. I mean to say, what was there in it for him? As far as I can make out, just the walk.'

'Suppose he had been trying to win his first cup?'

'I don't recollect anything being said about any cup. Do they give cups for climbing mountains 'mid snow and ice?'

'We are getting a little muddled,' said the Oldest Member.
"Excelsior" features one of the greatest and funniest denouements in the Wodehouse golf stories: the aforementioned Horace, struggling in love and golf, perseveres feverishly to win at both by wooing the attention of his fianceé's obnoxious and boorish family—laughing at the uncle's Irish Pat and Mike jokes, indulging the spoiled little nephew, and sneaking treats to the vicious nipper of a family dog—but his patience runs out when they trespass upon his one chance to win the golf trophy of his dreams. When Alphonse the dog begins to yap during a tense moment of putting precision, Horace must make the choice to either be a mouse or a man (and please note, the 'chasm' is actually just a golf bunker and not a Wile E. Coyote-style cliff):
The dog, he was saying to himself, was the apple of Irwin Botts' eye. It was also the apple of Ponsford Botts' eye. To seek it out and kick it in the shins, therefore, would be to shoot that system of his to pieces beyond repair. Irwin Botts would look at him askance. Ponsford Botts would look at him askance. And if they looked at him askance, Vera Weatherby would look at him askance, too, for they were presumably the apples of her eye, just as Alphonse was the apple of theirs.

On the other hand, he could not putt with a noise like that going on.

...The next moment, the barking had broken off in a sharp yelp, and Alphonse was descending into the chasm like a falling star.... Horace returned to his ball, and resumed his study of the line.

The Bottses, Irwin, and Ponsford, had been stunned witnesses of the assault. They now gave tongue simultaneously.

'Hey!' cried Irwin Botts.

'Hi!" cried Ponsford Botts.

Horace frowned meditatively at the hole. Even apart from the length of it, it was a difficult shot. He would have to allow for the undulations of the green. There was a nasty little slope to the right. That must be taken into consideration. There was also, further on, a nasty little slope to the left. The thing called for profound thought, and for some reason he found hismelf unable to give his whole mind to the problem.

Then he saw what the trouble was. Irwin Botts was standing beside him, shouting 'Hey!' in his left ear, and Ponsford Botts was standing on the other side, shouting 'Hi!' in his right ear. It was this that was affecting his concentration.

He gazed at them, momentarily at a loss. He, he asked himself, would Bobby Jones have handled a situation like this? The answer came in a flash. He would have taken Irwin Botts by the scruff of his neck, led him to the brink of the chasm and kicked him into it. He would then have come back for Ponsford Botts.

Horace did this, and resumed the scrutiny of the line.
Excelsior, indeed! The twist, of course, is that Vera has been waiting all along for someone to put her horrible family in its place, and Horace has just fulfilled her dream. Love conquers all, on the golf course and everywhere else in the world of Wodehouse.

Nothing Serious is the July "Book of the Month" for the Yahoo Wodehouse group, so everybody who's anybody is reading it. (I myself read it in a Vintage UK paperback edition I picked up on a trip to London in 1997, where I was lucky to fill in a lot of holes in my collection thanks to a large number of newly-reissued Wodehouse paperbacks). Here's the spot in "A Wodehouse a Week" where I usually tell you where you can pick up a copy yourself, but wow, that's gonna be a difficult hunt, because the book's out of print in both the US and the UK. I'm not posting the usual link because copies are going for $99-250 used online. As I am a little stuffed bull who is very careful about his hard-earned dimes I'm going to instead recommend you try to order Nothing Serious through interlibrary loan, okay? There should be enough library copies floating around the country to let you do that. In the meantime I will write Overlook Press a very polite email and ask them to bring Nothing Serious back into print in their beautiful Collector's Wodehouse edition hardcover reissues. Also, I will eat some of the chicken wings I brought back from Ponderosa. Mmmmm, chicken wings.


SallyP said...

This sounds delightful. Of course I say that EVERY week when you do your Wodehouse reviews.

And the Ponderosa doesn't sound too bad either!

Anonymous said...


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Can ypu please email me at:


Michael Jones said...

There hasn't been a Ponderosa in Canada in ages, they were all bought up by Red Lobster! I used to scam extra greens for my roomies' guinea pigs back in Uni.
Query...Do you ever get any $$ from the Amazon links? I guess someone has to buy something first for you to get any bucks, but I'm considering linking it with my blog. Is it worth my while?
ps. I have most of the Jeeves books myself. They're terrific!

Bully said...

Do you ever get any $$ from the Amazon links?

Pennies, Michael--I don't get enough traffic or click-throughs to make it much more.

Michael Jones said...

I thought as much. Hopefully, it'll be rolling in with the Wodehouse fanatics.
Enjoy the con.

Yatz said...

I can't stand both cricket and golf, yet Wodehouse's stories featuring them are among my favorites... I guess that's the power of genius.
Which reminds me: please do a Psmith soon!!! "Psmith Journalist" would be nice. No cricket, but the way it interacts with the "real world" is unlike any other PGW book, should make for nice essaying...

Bully said...

Yatz, a Psmith book is coming up in August!